The Works of Dionysius the Areopagite
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Dionysius the Areopagite is the name given to the anonymous author of a number of 5th century Christian texts. This mystical body of work was influenced by Neoplatonism. Much admired during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, debates about the identity of the author continue to this day. These documents are from a very early stage in the development of Christianity.
This book has 292 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1897.
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Excerpt from 'The Works of Dionysius the Areopagite'
Now then, O Blessed One, after the Theological Outlines I will pass to the interpretation of the Divine Names, as best I can.
But, let the rule of the Oracles be here also prescribed for us, viz., that we shall establish the truth of the things spoken concerning God, not in the persuasive words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit-moved power of the Theologians, by aid of which we are brought into contact with things unutterable and unknown, in a manner unutterable and unknown, in proportion to the superior union of the reasoning and intuitive faculty and operation within us. By no means then is it permitted to speak, or even to think, anything, concerning the superessential and hidden Deity, beyond those things divinely revealed to us in the sacred Oracles. For Agnosia, (supra-knowledge) of its superessentiality above reason and mind and essence--to, it must we attribute the superessential science, so far aspiring to the Highest, as the ray of the supremely Divine Oracles imparts itself, whilst we restrain ourselves in our approach to the higher glories by prudence and piety as regards things Divine. For, if we must place any confidence in the All Wise and most trustworthy Theology, things Divine are revealed and contemplated in proportion to the capacity of each of the minds, since the supremely Divine Goodness distributes Divinely its immeasurableness (as that which cannot be contained) with a justice which preserves those whose capacity is limited. For, as things intelligible cannot be comprehended and contemplated by things of sense, and things uncompounded and unformed by things compounded and formed; and the intangible and unshaped formlessness of things without body, by those formed according to the shapes of bodies; in accordance with the self-same analogy of the truth, the superessential Illimitability is placed above things essential, and the Unity above mind above the Minds; and the One above conception is inconceivable to all conceptions; and the Good above word is unutterable by word--Unit making one every unit, and superessential essence and mind inconceivable, and Word unutterable, speechlessness and inconception, and namelessness--being after the manner of no existing being, and Cause of being to all, but Itself not being, as beyond every essence, and as It may manifest Itself properly and scientifically concerning Itself.
Concerning this then, as has been said, the superessential and hidden Deity, it is not permitted to speak or even to think beyond the things divinely revealed to us in the sacred Oracles. For even as Itself has taught (as becomes Its goodness) in the Oracles, the science and contemplation of Itself in Its essential Nature is beyond the reach of all created things, as towering superessentially above all. And you will find many of the Theologians, who have celebrated It, not only as invisible and incomprehensible, but also as inscrutable and untraceable, since there is no trace of those who have penetrated to Its hidden infinitude. The Good indeed is not entirely uncommunicated to any single created being, but benignly sheds forth its superessential ray, persistently fixed in Itself, by illuminations analogous to each several being, and elevates to Its permitted contemplation and communion and likeness, those holy minds, who, as far as is lawful and reverent, strive after It, and who are neither impotently boastful towards that which is higher than the harmoniously imparted Divine manifestation, nor, in regard to a lower level, lapse downward through their inclining to the worse, but who elevate themselves determinately and unwaveringly to the ray shining upon them; and, by their proportioned love of permitted illuminations, are elevated with a holy reverence, prudently and piously, as on new wings.
Following then, these, the supremely Divine standards, which also govern the whole holy ranks of the supercelestial orders,--whilst honouring the unrevealed of the Godhead which is beyond mind and matter, with inscrutable and holy reverence of mind, and things unutterable, with a prudent silence, we elevate ourselves to the glories which illuminate us in the sacred Oracles, and are led by their light to the supremely Divine Hymns, by which we are supermundane
ly enlightened and moulded to the sacred Songs of Praise, so as both to see the supremely Divine illuminations given to us by them, according to our capacities, and to praise the good-giving Source of every holy manifestation of light, as Itself has taught concerning Itself in the sacred Oracles. For instance, that It is cause and origin and essence and life of all things; and even of those who fall away from It, both recalling and resurrection; and of those who have lapsed to the perversion of the Divine likeness, renewal and reformation; of those who are tossed about in a sort of irreligious unsteadiness, a religious stability; of those who have continued to stand, steadfastness; of those who are being conducted to It, a protecting Conductor; of those being illuminated, illumination; of those being perfected, source of perfection; of those being deified, source of deification; of those being simplified, simplification; of those being unified, unity; of every origin superessentially super-original origin; and of the Hidden, as far as is right, beneficent communication; and, in one word, the life of the living, and essence of things that be; of all life and essence, origin and cause; because Its goodness produces and sustains things that be, in their being.